Kennesaw State professor earns renewal of NSF grant for DNA research

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jul 2, 2021

Michael Van Dyke
Michael Van Dyke

Kennesaw State University associate professor of biochemistry Michael Van Dyke has received a renewal of a grant from the National Science Foundation worth more than $300,000 over three years. This grant also includes funding to engage undergraduate researchers in the process.

Van Dyke’s research focuses on advancing understanding of genetic functions and specific proteins called transcription factors, which can promote or suppress specific genes throughout the life of cells and organisms. This ability to turn certain gene expressions on or off can lead to new medical treatments or agricultural techniques, for example.

“Identifying these proteins will provide crucial insights into the biological roles of these proteins and the pathways they regulate,” Van Dyke said. “However, much of the scientific community is more interested in our methods for studying protein-DNA interactions because these studies have applications beyond the lab, particularly genetic engineering, agriculture and medicine.”

The researchers rely on a certain type of bacteria that occurs in extremely warm environments and houses the protein-DNA interactions that make the research possible. Van Dyke also touted the bacteria’s durability and prevalence, meaning that an undergraduate researcher of any scientific background can conduct experiments in the laboratory with pipettes and test tubes, observing hundreds of thousands of genetic processes in limited sampling under a controlled environment.

“This is a great experience for undergraduates to engage in the research process and learn the techniques and skills involved in science, and I welcome the opportunity to show students that pathway,” Van Dyke said.

He is committed to undergraduate research through his lab, as numerous students co-authored papers and presented studies at chemistry-related conferences with Van Dyke under the previous iteration of the grant.

“It’s a tribute to the undergraduate researchers who have worked in this lab,” Van Dyke said. “These early research experiences have given my students a leg up in the competitive market on their careers in scientific research, higher education and industry.”

Van Dyke has been at Kennesaw State since 2013. After earning his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology, he spent 21 years as a researcher at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, before entering academia.

He received the initial funding from the NSF in 2017, which ended June 30. The renewal took effect July 1 and will run through June 30, 2024.

– Dave Shelles

Photos by Jason Getz

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